Commercial spaceflight startup Maritime Launch Services is going public on the TSX Venture Exchange via a reverse takeover of merchant bank Jaguar Financial Corp.
Maritime Launch Services, or MLS, Chief Executive Steve Matier declined to name the size of the deal, but said its purpose is to draw the attention of potential investors. It follows a $10.5 million funding round led by Toronto’s Primary Capital and PowerOne Capital Markets in May.
In the past year, Jaguar Financial’s shares have shed about 90 percent of their value, sliding from about 40 cents to just over 4 cents, for a market cap of about $456,000. In a press release Friday, Jaguar said it had ceased operations. The takeover opportunity was spotted by Primary and PowerOne.
Founded in 2016, MLS plans to begin launching customers’ satellites from a compound in Canso, Nova Scotia, at the entrance to the Chedabucto Bay, by 2023. The company will use rockets built by Yuzhnoye Design Office — the Ukrainian former manufacturer of ballistic missiles for the Soviet Union.
“The thing that has surprised me about our industry right now — and I've been doing this for 32 years — is… that people are putting multi-billion dollar valuations on launch vehicle developers that have no flight heritage and no manufacturing capability,” said Matier in an interview.
“My message out of all this is… we've got a site, we've got an infrastructure project to build a spaceport. The launch vehicle’s essentially ready. All the manufacturing capability is ready to go.”
MLS says on its website that its Canso launchpad will make it well-situated for launching satellites into a range of trajectories in low Earth orbit — altitudes less than 2,000 kilometres from the planet’s surface.
The Yuzhnoye rocket, dubbed the Cyclone-4M, is nearly finished its development and will be capable of carrying larger payloads than the smaller launch vehicles used by MLS’s competitors. Matier said most companies that build satellites need to launch “constellations” of hundreds or thousands of satellites, making the Cyclone-4M’s thousands of pounds of payload capacity a key competitive advantage for MLS, which will be its first user.
“I've been working with these guys [Yuzhnoye] for a long number of years,” said Matier. “From my history working at NASA, for the space shuttle program, they're renowned in the industry.”
He added that Yuzhonye has already booked about 870 successful rocket launches — more than Elon Musk’s SpaceX or even NASA — making it the world’s most experienced rocket-maker by one measure.
The property MLS will use for its spaceport is Crown land and the company has requested a 40-year lease for 335 acres, which it is in the process of finalizing.
Matier is a former NASA engineer, who helped oversee the agency’s White Sands test facility in New Mexico for 15 years.
He said the $10.5 million from last January will mostly go towards building the Canso spaceport, with the bulk of the work being done by contractors, rather than MLS staff.
The company currently has 5 full-time employees, including former Nova Scotia Business Inc. Business Development Executive for Investment Attraction Harvey Doane, who is now MLS’s vice-president of strategic development. The team will eventually grow to about 100 people, Matier said.
A second crucial differentiating factor for MLS, he said, is its plan to launch rockets from a privately run facility. Most commercial rocket-launches currently happen at government facilities with other purposes, adding operational complexity. Canso’s proximity to the United States, where most of the world’s satellites are built, will also simplify logistics.
“We're going to disrupt an industry here by having a commercial launcher with a medium class [size] launch vehicle that is not at a government range,” said Matier.
“When you look globally at all the launch vehicles or launch sites out there, almost every single one of them is either a federal government or a state government-owned facility. So ours is definitely something that is going to change the face of delivering satellites in orbit."